Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Beauty Myth, and Why Women's Magazines Are Deadly

I took Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth out of the public library a few weeks ago because I'm on a quest for staples of feminist literature. I've been reviewing so many "post-feminist" and contemporary feminist books recently that I felt like it's not fair to simply have a mental understanding of where all the big Ladies of feminist theory fit in, but to not actually read their words.

Naturally, I started with Naomi (well because she was the only paperback feminst in the library). Beauty was really theoretical, and I loved it for this reason. Non-fiction books are awesome, but I've read so many recently that are all like "I sat down with Jemima. Jemima is a 28-year old single blah blah blah. Jemima feels like the patriarchy is blah blah blah." There's journalistic validity (and narrative friendliness) to doing it thus, which is why most nonfiction books work that way, but it was just kind of bad bad-ass to read Naomi's prose which was always like: "the patriarchal power structure does x,y, and z." period. No justification needed.

The political stuff--about how as women take up more space politically, they're asked to take up less physical space--was stuff I'd alrady come to on my own and in Where The Girls Are, and the controversial anorexia stuff I think is well-documented in Courtney Martin's new book (Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters) but I want to focus in on her critique of women's magazines which was absolutely fucking fascinating, particularly for me, since I want to go into journalism but I'm having a real struggle reconciling my values with those of the chick-rags. (see my previous post for what I do read)

Here's what she said in a pinch: women like women's magazines because they're a uniquely communal female space and they promote shared experience. In other words, we bond with the other woman reading Elle, and in a world where we're so often thrown into competition with other women, this makes the mags incredibly unique.

But they're ultimately controlled by patriarchal corporations: advertisers and media companies, that aren't digging the empowerment thing. If women were happy with how they looked, cosmetics companies and diet companies would go broke. They exist to make us feel bad about ourselves.

So every article about a badass activist is followed by an article about getting yourself beach-ready. Every article about loving thyself is followed by an article about how to de-frizz your hair. You get the idea. They are fascinating because of their insidiousness, and the way they hold Americna women hostage. Personally, reading Wolf made me feel justified both in my previous obsession with the glossies, and uber-justified in my later decision to totally stop reading them (my body image was throughly improved by that simple act),

I have more to say about Wolf's theories on religion, but I have to add them later since I'm rushing. Suffice it to say that the sin of sex has been replaced by the sin of overeating or not grooming--men have found a new way to control women's bodies now that theocracy don't work. Wolf uses her English major background to stir up this part, and I love it like John Donne loves Jesus. Chew on that, readers.

And check out Cara's post on the BM (I had to call it that)--great young feminist minds think alike, clearly.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link! I was going to mention that I just reviewed the same book, but you beat me to it!

    But I would definitely recommend the book to all.